chanel: 51 posts

7 Rare Vintage Perfumes : The Perfume and Wine Class

As preparation for the Art of Perfume and Wine class that I’m teaching in April in France (more details here), I thought I would write about 7 vintage perfumes that have been influential for the evolution of perfumery and that we will smell in their original versions. There will be over 50 different perfumes in this course, but these 7 are among the most essential to learn.

Guerlain L’Heure Bleue 1912

Many perfumers will name Guerlain as the most influential perfume house, especially in its period when Jacques Guerlain was the head creator. L’Heure Bleue is a textbook example of a classic as well as of a symphonic perfume.

We will, of course, smell other Guerlain classics, from Après L’Ondée and Mitsouko to Chamade and Chant d’Arômes.

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Chanel Gabrielle : Perfume Review


After years of waiting for Chanel’s next big launch, here comes Gabrielle. “A rebel at heart…passionate and free,” exalted the press release, using words like radiant, sparkling, luminous and “purely feminine.” Although Coco Chanel was a talented individual and a major force in fashion, as a personality I don’t find her all that appealing. But then again, it wasn’t the first time the brand relied on the designer’s charisma to cast a spell. Coco, one of the most baroque and elegant perfumes of the 1980s, used Gabrielle Chanel’s nickname and an image of her reclining in her Coromandel-decorated salon. So what’s wrong with Gabrielle?

One fundamental thing. Unlike its namesake, Gabrielle the perfume doesn’t aim for originality. Gabrielle is a shadow of Coco Mademoiselle, with less personality, less character and less presence. Take Coco Mademoiselle, remove all of the bling and earthy bit of patchouli, put it through a laundry cycle with white musks, garnish it with a few white florals—and here you go, Gabrielle.

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Chanel, Caron and Guerlain in Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita

“The first time I encountered a perfume that beguiled me was in the pages of a book. The sultry red-haired witch in Mikhail Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita enticed women with the promise of “Guerlain, Chanel No 5, Mitsouko, Narcisse Noir, evening gowns, cocktail dresses…” It would be some years before I smelled these perfumes, yet their names left a “baffling but seductive” imprint, just as the novel suggested.”

In my recent FT column, Revisiting Three Perfume Classics, I write about the three legendary perfumes that left their “baffling but seductive” trace in literature and history. They are Chanel No 5, Guerlain Mitsouko and Caron Narcisse Noir. Bulgakov started writing his novel in 1928 and worked on it until his death in 1940. The reason he selected these three perfumes as the lure for the black magic show was because they embodied glamour.

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Three Ultimate Iris Perfumes

Once, as I was telling Maurice Roucel how much I loved his Iris Silver Mist, a perfume he created for Serge Lutens, he laughed and explained that Lutens kept asking again and again for more iris, so he ended up using all the iris aromatics in the catalogue of his company and essentially “mixing them together.” Roucel can be refreshingly self-deprecating about his work, but I knew that achieving the precise harmony of Iris Silver Mist took much more than just blending all irises in sight. For me, it evokes the cool, frozen beauty of this complex note in a way that few other iris perfumes can.

In my recent FT column, I examine three iris classics, describing what makes them compelling and memorable. Above all, iris as an ingredient deserves attention because it’s one of the most layered, rich but difficult materials available to perfumers.

The first time I smelled iris essence, I stood for a few minutes with a perfume blotter under my nose before I regained my senses. In an instant it conjured up frozen petals and snow-covered trees, and while this image of a winter garden was vivid, I couldn’t easily describe the fragrance. It was like nothing I had encountered before, and pinning down its radiant but surprisingly potent scent proved difficult. To continue, please click here.

What are your ultimate iris perfumes?

The Shifting Contexts of Perfume

Could other factors, apart from the aroma itself, influence our perception of perfume? Yes, of course, and this is not limited to fragrance. Elisa explores the topic.

A few years ago, I went to a nearby wine shop to stock up for a weekend in the mountains with some old college friends. A representative from a local winery intercepted me in the red blends aisle and implored me to try a bottle of his family’s wine. Colorado is not known for its vineyards, but I went along in the spirit of adventure, bonhomie, and perhaps a touch of pity.

When we got to the mountains, I warned my friends (occasional wine snobs) that I couldn’t vouch for the quality of the local wine. Since we were all sure it would be bad, we saved it until the end of dinner, a couple of bottles in. When we finally opened and tasted it, we were blown away—it was utterly unusual, with the complexity and creaminess of a good Bordeaux but some additional, unplaceable quirk that made it compulsively drinkable. I was sad when it was gone.

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